David Benedict on theatre

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As Ken Russell will tell you, there's drama to be made out of a musical crisis. Whether taking inspiration from Hollywood's (strangely heterosexual) Cole Porter in Night and Day or Julian Mitchell revitalising Verdi in After Aida, writers need look no further than their CD collections when searching for inspiration.

This year's compositions include Russell's first-ever radio play, The Death of Alexander Scriabin (which featured a Black Mass and Oliver Reed, natch) and Ronald Harwood's earnest, wordy drama Taking Sides (which should have been a radio play) about Art vs the Nazis, courtesy of composer/conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler.

David Pownall is famous for dishing up two composers for the price of one. Master Class starred Prokofiev and Shostakovich under Stalinism, while Music to Murder By had suicidal 20th-century composer Peter Warlock reincarnated as Gesualdo. Handling Bach, by Paul Barz, is another double. Record company executives will doubtless be loitering with intent about the Greenwich Theatre to see whether it does for Bach and Handel what Amadeus did for Mozart and Salieri.

"It already has done," says director Matthew Francis (above). A success in Germany, the play really took off at the Moscow Arts Theatre a few years ago. Unlike Amadeus which fictionalised an actual relationship between two composers, Handling Bach is about a meeting that never occurred. "Bach made a number of attempts but his letters weren't answered and messengers were sent away empty-handed." Despite two wives and 20 children, for Bach, music was God. "He was like William Blake." And Handel? "The Lloyd Webber of his day. A famous, international jetsetter opening oratorios in different cities, making (and losing) fortunes. He ploughed his way against the odds and was happiest at court... a hob-nobber."

Strangely, the same surgeon operated on both of them for blindness managing to mess up on each occasion. They were also both born in 1685, as was Domenico Scarlatti (himself the son of a composer) who wrote 14 operas and 550 harpsichord sonatas. Anyone feel a play coming on?

'Handling Bach' previews from Sat and opens on Wed at Greenwich Theatre SE10 (0181-858 7755)

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